Chege and Ngegi are the first Kenyan gay couple known to have publicly wedded. Chege has been in a previous gay partnership that broke up.
Most of the comments were, predictably, critical—and some downright hostile. By almost a ration of 10 to 1, Kenyans thought what Chege and Ngegi had done was disgraceful, a shame upon the country, their families, an affront to God and good old African values.
But then something that no one seems to have paid attention to happened. In a follow-up, KTN TV station went to the village of Chege’s parents, and in one scene that has proved particularly controversial, stopped a very elderly relative of Chege along the village path, flashed the photo of the gay couple, and wanted to know her views.
SMS messages and Tweets started flying even as the programme aired. By a ratio of, again, 10 to 1 most Kenyans felt that KTN had crossed the line in the way it treated Chege’s and Ngegi’s rural relatives. One remarkable collection of this anger was on Stockskenya.com, whose users abandoned their usually staid conversation on finance and business issues, and plunged into the more dramatic world of privacy and sex.
This reaction was surprising, because what KTN did would have passed off as good, aggressive reporting if it had been any other story. As far as most people are concerned, Chege and Ngengi went too far to break a taboo. But the fact that so many people also seemed turned off by a follow-up of the story that went beyond the couple to their relatives, suggested that Chege and Ngengi have broken a psychological barrier.
Going forward, discussions of gay issues will probably be less difficult. And, I suspect, the next story of another Kenyan gay couple is unlikely to attract as much attention. The novelty, or shock factor, around gay relationships in Kenya – and indeed people in the know say Kenya has East Africa’s largest gay community – has cracked considerably.
Chege and Ngengi never intended it that way. After all, they refused to speak to the BBC about their wedding, and their only other comment has been a plea to the media and the public to leave their families alone.
However, if eventually Kenya comes to hold a more tolerant public attitude toward gay people, history will show that Chege and Ngengi were the ones who opened public minds. They could be the accidental trailblazers for gay rights in Kenya and, who knows, maybe East Africa,